Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 April 2011
Issue No. 1044
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Out of danger

The ordeal of Egyptians stranded in Misrata is over, reports Doaa El-Bey

The last of the Egyptians in the Libyan port of Misrata were ferried this week either to Alexandria or Benghazi before heading for Egypt by road.

"The last Egyptian left Misrata on Monday," Mohamed Ali, from the Misrata local council, told Al-Ahram Weekly in a phone interview. "Qatari boats and that of the International Organisation for Migration [IOM] took them this week. Mission accomplished," Ali said. Last week, two Qatari ships and one from Turkey rescued nearly 3,000 Egyptians who were stranded in Misrata for weeks following the revolt in Libya.

But Ali criticised the performance of the Egyptian government and its slow response to the needs of some 6,000 Egyptians who could not leave Misrata. "One cannot thank the Egyptian government for its performance in Misrata. However, I have to say they are doing a great job for our brothers in the east," he added.

Most of the Egyptians in Misrata complained that the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli did not answer their calls nor did it provide any information on their flight home. They left them for weeks in refugee camps which were exposed to heavy shelling from troops loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his snipers and mercenaries who broke into and looted some of their homes.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry declared that some 1,220 citizens arrived in Alexandria on a Qatari boat in addition to 259 Egyptians who arrived on an IOM boat on Sunday.

Mohamed Abdel-Hakam, assistant to the foreign minister for consulate affairs and Egyptian expatriates, said more than 300 Egyptians had managed to cross to the Tunisian borders. The authorities are arranging their flight home as soon as possible, Abdel-Hakam added.

Misrata, in western Libya, has been the scene of bitter and bloody battles for weeks. This week, the anti-Gaddafi forces managed to retake control of many parts of it. At the same time, reports indicated that the revolutionaries also closed in on the regime's snipers situated mainly in residential areas.

Caught in the middle of the fighting have been thousands of workers who were forced to leave their work at the start of the Libyan revolution in February, but were not able to leave Libya. Mainly from Egypt, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Niger, Sudan and Bangladesh, they have come under threat of Gaddafi's forces and his snipers who have been posted in various parts of Misrata. NATO forces have launched air strikes on the city in order to protect civilians from Gaddafi's forces and to enforce a no-fly zone.

Regarding the situation this week, Ali said that Gaddafi's forces were pounding the city. "Many people are getting killed and injured every day. Nevertheless, he keeps denying he is aiming at civilians. The criminal leader and his criminal son claimed repeatedly that they did not kill any civilians in Misrata," Ali added.

There are refugees from Ghana, Niger, Bangladesh and Sudan who are still stranded in refugee camps. Qatari and IOM boats are likely to ferry them soon to Egypt and then to their countries of origin.

Most of the refugees, including Egyptians, were living in temporary refugee camps built by the Red Cross. At the start of the revolt, they did not have serious problems regarding food and water, however, as time passed, food and cooking gas became scarce. Communication is still a major problem since it is very difficult for stranded expatriates to call their families after the Gaddafi regime cut off all communication with the rest of the world.

According to the United Nations, more than 400,000 people have fled Libya ever since the start of the revolution against Gaddafi. More than 120,000 of them are Egyptians who have arrived in Egypt either through the Egyptian border city of Salloum or airlifted from Tunisia.

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